Sunday, December 18, 2011

End Runs

or Fooling Old Man Winter

I think of it as my "stealth gardening" outfit—the multiple layers of black that make sitting in the sun enjoyable this time of year.  In summer black gets hot enough that it almost burns you.  In December, as long as you're out of the wind, it keeps you roasty-toasty, especially in a small, walled garden.  This weekend the temperature was only about 30°F when I went outside in the mornings, but wearing black in the sunshine let me make an end run around the cold.

Gardening is like dressing to outwit winter in a way—a set of tricks of the trade that let you make the most of nature's gifts while circumventing its extremes.  You grow things that will thrive in your climate, but you also water new plantings more carefully than nature would so that they grow deep, strong root systems.  You loosen and amend the soil.  And you mulch.

Since losing a fair amount of newly laid pecan shell mulch in a recent windstorm, I've been stealthily tracking the portions of it that just went into hiding to their lairs:  in the mess of suckering growth beneath the largest sand cherry, tucked into the corner with the scariest spider webs (why couldn't they blow away?) beneath the blue bench, or drifted up against the grasses.  I coax it out with a gentle hand fork and then rehome it to the barest spots.  It's not much insulation, but it might be enough to fool Old Man Winter if he doesn't look too closely.

As I was sidling around the garden hunting for errant patches of mulch, I spotted this in the central bed:

One of the sylvestris tulips (I think) is coming up—actually, quite a number of them are.  I've never grown them before so don't know if they normally break ground before the first day of winter or if this is jumping the gun.  Did I plant them too shallowly? too early? too late?  I'm not sure whether they have a clever strategy for making an end run around winter or whether they're trying to steal a base—to sneak over to third while the pitcher isn't looking.  If the latter, I'm dubious.  How often does that succeed?

You can do a lot to trick Old Man Winter, but I don't know if he's going to fall for this one.


  1. The topic "winter festivals and other bad ideas" is excellent all on its own.

  2. Old man winter always has the last word

  3. Because our weather is so mild, or perhaps it's because of the swings in temperature, my bulbs always come up too early. Old Man Winter and Mother Nature sometimes don't make the perfect marriage!

  4. Just read an English blog, they have daffodils out!

  5. In these parts we can have tulip and daffs greenery coming up early and right under feets of snow...we have had too much freezing weather to suspend all thought of early real snow but cold and rain...The last 2 weekends have been freezing..I hope after the holidays I might see some of the garden and some changes..who knows...more seems to grow under the snow than when it is missing...

  6. Good luck with the pecan mulch! I used it for one season, but had the same problem as you. It blew to the four corners. :)

  7. My daffodils are showing here in Seattle - the trick I need is to stop the deer walking over them! I'm trying crumpled chicken wire but will probably have to remove that when the shoots are taller. As a rule I've noticed deer seem to pick their way between plants rather than trampling them. I wonder if that applies to bulbs also? Guess I'll find out!

  8. Why, thank you, Kathy. It's one of my favorites, if I do say so myself, but it isn't easy to come up with posts that go with it.

    Suz, he's an old blowhard, isn't he? Good to see you—hope you're doing well.

    Holley, I could see your climate being tricky for bulbs--a lot of your winter weather must be as warm as spring weather in more "typical" bulb-growing places (like Holland, say). I love the image of Old Man Winter and Mother Nature having to go to a marriage counselor!

    Donna, it's good to know that tulips do get a little over-eager sometimes. I feel like I've spent the last two months showing different garden plants the calendar, to no avail. Cold rain is so uncomfortable—I hope it turns to snow for you soon, though only in small doses and at convenient times. In VT the snowy part of the garden always had a higher survival rate than the bit right up against the south side of the house where the snow melted.

    GirlSprout, well, harrumph. It seems like it's gravel or bust around here. Actually the pecan mulch I put down in spring did pretty well once it had partly decomposed. It kind of glued itself together into a crust, which definitely kept the weeds down.

    Karen, you could practically write a novel about your Adventures with Deer. (For gardeners it would be a horror story.) When I lived in western NY we had a lot of deer, and now that you mention it I don't remember any trampling—lots of munching, but no trampling. And the squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits pretty well took care of the bulbs anyway...

  9. I'd do a lot now to trick Old Man Winter - just so that we can wipe out the next,say, six weeks (ok, four might do) off our calendar here in Fairfax, VA. Enjoy your short winter, Stacy!

  10. My bulbs are coming up early too, but the ones under bare soil have been dug up by cats or foxes.